Three Ways to Engage with the Gospel
What is the recipe for success in the tech world? Why are companies like Apple and Google becoming bigger and bigger, while controlling more and more aspects of our lives?
It is more than just the sleek designs of their phones or the ease of their search. They have become adept in what is called “vertical integration.” This is when a company builds the hardware, the software, and the storefront. You buy an iPhone, sometimes at an Apple Store or their website. It has Apple iOS software running it, and you buy your music and movies from iTunes.
Apple, as we say, is vertically integrated. It controls all the major critical parts of the chain used to make and sell products. Apple builds great hardware, owns the core software experience, optimizes its software for that hardware, equips it with web services (iTunes and iCloud), and finally controls the selling experience through its own retail stores.
Microsoft initially made software, and licensed it to companies that actually made computers. These licensing agreements were incredibly lucrative, but nowadays the darlings of the tech world are those that provide amazing products on all levels. Vertical integration means there is an inclusivity where you get everything you need from one source, and they access your wallet in more and more ways. Amazon sells you the e-reader, the e-book, and literally anything else you could ever need ever.
Vertical integration as a theory I believe works when it comes go how we engage with the gospel, the greatest news this world has ever heard! The Bible is God-breathed, sufficient, clear, authoritative, and necessary for our daily lives (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It is living and active, sharp as a two-edged sword. And it centers on the person and work of Jesus Christ (Luke 24:27, 44; John 5:39). It is God’s revelation of himself and his ongoing work of redemption, starting at creation and ending with re-creation. Scripture defines who we are, how we live, and how we relate.
A more biblical understanding of vertical integration and our engagement with the gospel can have tangible impacts on how we grow in understanding and applying the Good News. I propose three levels of vertical gospel engagement that will have ongoing impact on our hearts: public, interpersonal, and private gospel meditation. Sin brings with is separation, isolation, and disintegration. When these things are ramped up in our lives, we find it very difficult to rest in God’s love, to know other people, and to even look in the mirror at our own hearts.
But engaging with the gospel regularly brings reconciliation where there was once separation, it brings connection rather than isolation, and it brings inner peace and growth in the midst of a broken world.
Public Gospel Meditation
The public proclamation of God’s word has historical legs. At Mount Sinai, in Exodus 20, God spoke his law to the people of Israel thereby creating a nation of his people. Joshua gathered all Israel together as they prepared to enter the Promised Land, and at the end of Joshua they gathered to renew their covenant with God. And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel…” Joshua (24:2a)
As Israel renewed their covenant again under the leadership of Nehemiah, Ezra the scribe read from the Book of the Law of Moses in front of everyone who could understand (Nehemiah 8:1-2). They not only read from the Law, but helped the people to understand what was being said (8:8).
Getting into the New Testament, Jews continued to gather at synagogues throughout the ancient world for the hearing of the Law. Jesus ministered in synagogues, Paul went to synagogues to reason with the Jews about Jesus as the Messiah. With the advent of the new covenant, Paul tells us that the public reading of Scripture is still necessary and valuable (1 Timothy 4:13). As a pastor in Ephesus, Timothy was to regularly read the Scriptures with the intent to instruct people and to exhort them in the ways of God. He was to be devoted to this practice, to pay special attention to this task that goes with his role in that city.
Going back in time a few decades, we see the early church being devoted to the teaching of the Apostles, those who were trained and sent by Jesus himself (Acts 2:42). They were just as devoted to hearing and Paul told Timothy to be toward reading. This makes for a church where the public preaching and teaching of the Scriptures is valued and practiced regularly. It is where the very words of God are shared publicly, where his character and nature and will are put forth for the consumption of his people.
Shoulder-to-shoulder gospel engagement means that together we hear from God, from those qualified to preach and teach (1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Timothy 4:2; Titus 1:9). This broad gospel proclamation, flowing from one devoted to teaching and exhorting, to those who are devoted to hearing and doing (James 1:19-27). This unites the whole church together in the truth of the Scriptures as they point to the finished work of the Christ.
In a world obsessed with interpretation of life, making meaning and defining identity, Sunday mornings sitting under the word of God are opportunities for all of us to receive meaning and purpose and identity together. We understand that we do not define God, we do not define ourselves, but rather we need him to bring definition. If you are not getting this definition from a God-appointed preacher and teacher, going back to the very words of God himself, then where are you getting it from?
Shirking on the Sunday morning gospel engagement leaves you open to other “authorities” which desperately seek to influence you away from Christ and toward yourself. Our world says we make meaning ourselves, we define our identities as we see fit. It tells us to dethrone God and to exalt ourselves. Getting meaning and identity and purpose from the pulpit unites you with everyone else in the room who is also seeking the very same things! You are in agreement that you cannot find it in yourselves or in the world, and you go to the Source.
If not God’s word preached, who or what is influencing you the most in this season of life? Where are you being taught meaning, identity, and purpose are found within? Where would going Sunday morning engagement in the gospel help you find true meaning, identity, and purpose?
Interpersonal Gospel Meditation
Going a step deeper from Sunday morning gospel engagement gets us to face-to-face encouragement.
These are contexts in which we encourage one another, using gracious words, as fits the occasion, that build one another up (Ephesians 4:29). Sitting shoulder-to-shoulder on a Sunday gives us the broad gospel engagement that brings meaning, purpose, and identity for us all. But, the application of these things is different for everyone. We need people around us who speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), and help us put off the old self and put on the new (Ephesians 4:17-32; Colossians 3:1-17).
This entails knowing one another at a level where we understand the specifics of their lives, and where the Lord continues to remake them into the image of Christ. I love the phrase from Ephesians 4:29, as fits the occasion. This literally means knowing what is lacking in someone, and using our words to show how Christ has already met that need.
Being revelation receivers and meaning makers, we need others to help us interpret truth and life to see how they fit together. We cannot turn off our desire to make sense of life, hence shows like The View where a handful of women sit around making sense of life with no true, objective truth as a guide. We need others to help us make sense of life, and we have the honor of helping others see and live in light of the gospel.
Many think that shoulder-to-shoulder gospel engagement is sufficient, which we would disagree with. Hebrews 3:12-13 says that sin can lead us away from the living God, that it is deceitful, and therefore daily exhortation is necessary. One day a week is insufficient for the nature of our battle with sin.
We need regular engagement with others who know us, who love us despite knowing us, and are willing to help reorient our lives with the truth.
Who has permission to speak into your life? Who do you know and trust that can help you to see and live in light of the gospel?
If you cannot name any names, let us know. Join a Missional Community. Be the kind of person who initiates these kinds of relationships. Do not wait for people to come to you, sin makes that difficult. Rather, rest in God’s love for you in Christ, pursue redemptive relationships, and see what happens.
Private Gospel Meditation
The deepest level of gospel engagement is in the personal meditation on God’s word. This is crucial, but difficult. Many say they want to read their Bibles more, but for an endless variety of reasons it remains elusive.
When sin’s separation, isolation, and disintegration are more a reality than God’s peace, warmth, and love, then we are hardwired to flee to sinful sources of comfort. When God’s reality is not in line with our desires for life, we rarely run to him to help reorient our desires. But if we can turn from this, and take a nose-dive deep into God’s truth on a personal level, we set ourselves up to truly benefit from all three levels.
First, personal meditation gives us insights into our own hearts which would not have come about otherwise. No one knows us as well as ourselves. We are always in conversation internally, wrestling with the ways in which sin brings disintegration. We need to stand before the mirror of God’s word to see the specific ways in which we are broken, and why we are broken in these particular ways.
Second, personal meditation gives us insights into the gracious and merciful nature of God who is transforming every degree of who we are. It gives us the internal verbiage to fight against the self-made meaning, identity, and purpose we are told to foster.
Psalm 119 is all about the personal absorption of truth through the study of the Scriptures. We store up God’s word in our hearts (Psalm 119:11). This literally means to treasure something, to see God’s truth as highly valuable so that we do not sin against him. As sojourners on earth, we need our God to open our eyes to the wondrous things of his law so that we navigate life for his glory (119:18-19).
The Lord gives wisdom, he gives knowledge and understanding, he is the source of truth and stores up wisdom for the upright (Proverbs 2:6-7). We are not the source of meaning, purpose, and identity, but he is and he shares these things with us as a grace! He has not left us without understanding, but rather has gone to great lengths to reveal himself to us. We benefit from taking the time to study his word because we are really studying him! We are knowing him, while we grow in knowing ourselves.
All Scripture points to Christ and his work, and therefore any meaning that is made, any identity that is found, any purpose that is put forth all points to him. He is wisdom (Colossians 2:3), he is truth (John 14:6). When we take the time to meditate on Scripture, we are truly setting our affection and attention upon Christ (Colossians 3:1-2), whereby we become more and more like him (2 Corinthians 3:17-18, Colossians 3:10). This is where joy is found, where the feeling of separation moves toward reconciliation. Where the feeling of isolation becomes that of warmth and comfort. And where disintegration moves toward inner rest.
You may be content with the identity you have forged. You may have made sense of the world in such a way where your identity flourishes. Until it doesn’t, until the disintegration we all face comes to the forefront and this fallen world crashes down upon you.
Where are you content with the influence of the world upon your soul? Where has your inner turmoil made looking into the mirror of God’s word too scary?
If you would like resources on how to engage more deeply in private gospel meditation, email us here.
Integrating the public, the personal, and the private engagement with the gospel is how many different spiritual disciplines collide. Corporate gatherings allow for communion and baptism to be practiced for the building up of the saints. You pray for others as they pray for you. You confess sin vertically and horizontally. You invite others who have yet to believe the gospel into a place where they will hear it all the time!
This makes for a healthy church where we are all growing together into the image of Christ, we are growing in our understanding of the gospel, and we are helping others to do the same. We may find our lives are less and less controlled by our technology, and rather by the influence of our Creator and Savior.
May the Lord stir us up to engaging with the gospel regularly!
More in River City Blog
May 8, 2018Five Celebrations of a Missional Community: Part Five
April 24, 2018Five Celebrations of a Missional Community: Part Four
April 18, 2018Five Celebrations of a Missional Community: Part Three